Since I started writing for Diken, I have endeavored to write either in-depth articles where I criticize various issues and offer solutions (if I don’t have any suggestions for solutions, I try not to criticize) or articles with a lighter tone where I share my thoughts and feelings.
During a conversation with my daughter following my long article on the relationship between SMEs and banks, she said “Memo, why don’t you write a TBT this week for a change” (both my daughters call me Memo).
Before I had a chance to ask, “What is a TBT?” she offered the explanation.
It turns out that a ‘TBT’ is an abbreviation for ‘Throwback Thursday’, which apparently is the act of sharing a post about a memory along with the hashtag ‘TBT’ on Thursdays (new social media fads). And since my articles were published on Thursdays, this made ‘perfect sense’. Why didn’t I write about a memory?
How could I say no to her… Obviously, I wasn’t going to go on social media, tagging my article but I figured I would oblige, and share a memory from my motorsports days back in the 90s.
Here we go…
One Friday morning, I wake up with excitement.
Actually, I don’t get excited often whether it is a race or any other organization. I am a calm and cool-headed person.
Anyway… What was I saying? I woke up early in the morning with excitement.
Friday is the last day of preparations. I am going to start training early and continue till the end of day.
‘Seeding’ is on Saturday, Sunday is the race. It is the big race, especially for me. I will be tested in front of the whole Shell (my major sponsor) community. My first race, in front of my own crowd.
The foreign general manager, the Turkish general manager, employees, companies that provide services to Shell, companies that receive services from Shell, “co-sponsors”, their families and of course their guests.
It’s fair to be excited, right? After all, I am the actor.
In addition to those who come with their own invitations, Shell has arranged several buses to transport people. There are two large tents, and BBQs under them.
It is the day that Mahmut (Gürtuna – team director) asserts, “It was up to us until today, now, it is your turn”. That is the day.
Let me get back on track. In the morning, we hop on the service vehicle and get on our way with Levent (Gür – my colleague). We will head to the Körfez (Racing Track) to practice. On the road, our car is shining bright… Shell Racing Team colors. Everyone is looking at us… Only 5-10 kilometers to İzmit, and the car gives up. The engine is seized. In other words, the engine ran out of oil.
We are stranded in the middle of the road, not to mention what this means for our team. Let’s go hitchhikers. With our coveralls, we look like we’re about to say, “Hello, we have just arrived from space”. Turkish people are generous, we swap race stories and finally arrive at the racetrack, an hour late and totally exhausted.
Yusuf (Aramacı/Turkish service chief) greets us: “Guys, where have you been? OK, jump in the car right away, see, Ertan (Nacaroğlu/racecar driver) is already on his way back.” Under such stress, how can one drive a Formula car, let alone practice?
I got inside the car; the Italian mechanic is pulling my belt tight. Stop it man! We’ve already had enough. One slow lap, second lap, I’m warming up the tires, I’m warming up myself… And, the car gives up. What’s that? The engine is overheated. How could this happen? I’m about to cry.
What a day. Two engines. The car needs a new engine. They can replace it after practice that evening. Well, there goes today.
Let’s cut to the chase, this is a long story. As I was sulking under the tent, Yusuf came. He said, “Don’t be sad, these things happen. I’ll lend you the other team’s spare car (Marlboro Mobil Racing Team), and you can use that to go back” (with a gesture as if to say, ‘don’t fret’).
I didn’t know whether I should laugh or cry. The car was ready. I got on, the belts, the first lap, the second lap, the famous Pirelli bend, I missed a gear, and the car started rattling.
Their gearbox is totaled… Give Mehmet an inch, and he’ll take a mile. I better not reveal the total cost of that day.
I went home. I don’t even remember how I did. But the one thing I clearly remember is that I did not turn the TV on before going to bed. Who knows, it could burst into flames.
Saturday morning, we’re back on the road, laughing at our misery. Not the ideal morale for “seeding”. The engine is new, the set up are new, it is what it is, and I get 7th place.
Think about it, 400-500 guests are all there to watch me on the day of the race, and I am way at the back, long way from the start. Until Sunday, I keep reminding myself, “sometimes even Schumacher started at the back; it’s the result that matters”.
That morning, I’m doing the warm-up laps; I think I have done around five to 10, when Yusuf raises the ‘IN’ (‘Enter the pit’) sign. The car had already started acting up during the last lap, and it was hard to keep it on the road. I entered the pit. Bersini (Italian service chief) starts running towards me yelling “Ali… Ali”. I thought something happened to Ali. But, there is no Ali in the team!
I mean to ask what happened, but they are telling me to get out of the car. I get out. And, what do I see? The car’s rear wing is gone. Torn apart, gone, nada. He was yelling “Ali… Ali” because ‘ali’ in Italian means ‘wings’ (Alitalia, wings of Italy).
What a way to bust morale! What a weekend!
4.30 pm is set as the start of the race. With 10 minutes to go, everyone is ready. We’re set to do one round and get back into starting positions. Once everything is set, the referee is going to raise the green flag, and we will do another round to warm up the tires before we settle back to starting positions, then we are going to wait for the lights to go out and so on and so forth.
I start out on the track along with everyone else. I’m about to take the right turns and descend straight towards the Shell tent, pass the turn in front, and take my position according to the rankings. I turn right. What’s that? The pedal comes loose under my foot. It’s incredible; the throttle cable has snapped. This cable, made of a material used in aircrafts, which gets checked dozens of times before and after it is installed, and whose chance of breaking or failing in any other way is one in thousands, snaps even before I can reach the Shell tent. I am speechless.
I want to sleep and forget.
I woke up on Monday morning thinking, “The mishaps were part of the weekend, it’s over, and I’m back to my normal life”.Loads to sort out. I have to write a report to the Shell team. I need to take care of the service, the crew and the racing car. And most importantly, I need to go and get the service vehicle from Körfez. It’s still there.
If we could put aside the psychological dimension of what has happened—as if we could do that—how could one get over the fact that I completely failed the general manager who came all the way from London with his family to watch the race and the team? The weekend cost the team as much as the ‘seasonal budget’. Mahmut is furious.
I swore to not cost or spend any more money. I will even drive the service vehicle back from Körfez to Istanbul myself. Enough is enough.
I called my friend Ali (Ersin) and asked for his service van and trailer. I will go and take the car all by myself, I will load it myself, and I will drive it myself.
That’s exactly what happened. I went to Izmit, loaded the car and brought it back; I unloaded it in front of our garage. All I have to do is buy fuel, return the car to Ali’s garage and say thank you.
Could it be that easy for Mehmet? As I was driving down the slope, I saw ‘one wheel’ overtaking me. For goodness’ sake what is that wheel? Isn’t it our trailer’s wheel?
The wheel comes loose, the wheel overtakes me on the slope, jumps over to the opposite side of the wall to the other industrial site, and once there, bounces on the ceiling of a brand new car, polished to be delivered to its new owner, and lands on the head of the mechanic who is doing the polishing. The man’s arm was broken.
A week later I won the Renç Koçibey Rally.